Poor circulation can cause pins and needles, numbness, and pain in the affected tissues. Localised issues with circulation can be due to mild problems with muscles causing compression. If the causes are more serious, your osteopath can refer you on to somewhere more appropriate.
More widespread symptoms can be a sign of something more systemic going on.
Post injury swelling
After a sprain or similar injury, we tend to try and minimise inflammation and swelling, but it is there for a reason. In the early stages, inflammation brings in nutrients to help heal the area. However, this swelling is not helpful when it’s static for long periods. As nutrients enter the injured tissue, waste products leave- but if they stay nearby and aren’t flushed out, they prevent the flow of new nutrients in.
Some areas of the body are easier to encourage circulation than others. The calf works as a pump when we walk to push blood back up towards the heart, so walking or calf exercises can be useful to clear swelling in the ankle and knee. Other areas respond best to hands on techniques.
Heat and ice can be advised by your osteopath where appropriate. Cold compresses encourage blood vessels to constrict, whereas warmth encourages them to dilate. Repeating one after the other simulates a pumping mechanism.
Poor circulation due to Lymphoedema
When blood enters a cell, it leaves in two parts. Some makes its way back to the veins, and some ends up as lymph. Lymph is fluid that bathes cells, allowing for nutrient and waste exchange. It flows through the lymphatic system, through lymph nodes (what we know colloquially as “glands”) before re-entering the venous system at the top of the chest.
Lymphoedema literally means “lymph swelling”. A common cause of this is after cancer, when lymph nodes have been removed through surgery or damaged by radiotherapy. For patients who have had lymph nodes around the armpit removed due to breast cancer, lymphoedema can affect the arm.
Managing lymphoedema is an important task. If the cause is surgical, you should be managed with Decongestive Lymphatic Therapy in the early stages. Once this is under control, you can be left to manage the symptoms yourself. Self massage is a big part of this, and your osteopath can help.
Vascular Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS)
The thoracic outlet is the space around the front of the shoulder where nerves and blood vessels pass between the ribcage and arm. A number of muscles and other structures in this area can compress the nerves or blood vessels and cause pain, numbness, or pins and needles into the arm.
The most common form of TOS is neurological, but in 3-10% of cases it can be blood vessels that are compromised. Although most vascular TOS cases require referral back to the GP, your osteopath will be able to differentiate between the two types and support you in getting the right care.
You should seek urgent care from your GP or hospital if your arm symptoms include:
- white or blue skin
- cold skin
For more mild cases of vascular TOS, and for neurological TOS, your osteopath can work to reduce the compression around the area. This may mean working to strengthen the upper back muscles, relaxing off the chest muscles, or identifying other causes of your symptoms.
If you have problems with your circulation, book an appointment to see how we can help.